Tuesday, July 31, 2012



Ten years ago, in January 2001, an Archdiocesan Synod was held in Mumbai at which a blueprint for a ‘Participatory-Servant Church’ was developed. The Mid-Term Assembly convened in 2006 established specific goals and developed strategies to achieve these objectives. Today, together with the systems and structures in the Church, it is time for us to take stock of ourselves as Church- the progress we have made, the changes in our world that are affecting us and how we can even more effectively respond to the ‘signs of the times’. This strategy paper on: ‘Relationship with other Laity’ attempts to briefly chart out this course.  

An Emerging Church

In its earliest days, the Church was simply a community of believers. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching
and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the
prayers. … All who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2: 42, 44).

Very soon during that first century, however, it became necessary for the people to elect representatives to distribute food, keep accounts, and perform administrative functions that would leave the missioners (apostles) free to spread the word of God. From such modest beginnings, we read further in the Acts of the Apostles, arose needs to affirm the true leaders within a community, to settle disputes among members and between cities, and to counteract false teachings.

Century after century, as the Church grew in size and breadth, this need to establish structures increased. Gradually, the laity were described as recipients of whatever actions their pastors and bishops took. However, the Second Vatican Council renewed the focus on the entire People of God.

The People of God

The term laity is here understood to mean all the faithful except those in holy orders.  These faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part, the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the World. (LG, 31).  

The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity repeats this call for the laity to use their special gifts within the apostolate of the Church—because “without it the apostolate of the pastors is often unable to achieve its full effectiveness”—and declares specifically the rights of the laity to form associations for such purposes.

The Present Reality

In the Archdiocese of Bombay, several lay faithful are utilizing their charisms in the service of the community through various associations.

The ordained minister while being the animator of the community has the responsibility of discovering, discerning and developing the charisms of the laity. 

Besides the ministries already existing in the Archdiocese, like the Extraordinary Ministry of the Eucharist and the Ministry of the Word, some new key ministries like, just to name a few: Ministry of Faith Formation, Ministry to the Family and Ministry of Liturgical Animation, have been established and with much

As we reflect on the past we are thankful to God for the active involvement of the laity, but while we stand on the threshold of this Consultation in our Archdiocese, we see that much still needs to be done as the Church in Mumbai faces new challenges, encounters new experiences and witnesses to Christ before we can say like St Paul, “I have run the race, I have fought the good fight. I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7).

A time has come and now is the moment for the Church of Mumbai to make that Paradigm Shift in our thinking, working out and living with the laity.

1.    A Time to develop Mature Relationships with the Laity.

        The recent Archdiocesan Survey shows that 40.6% of the laity were comfortable in accepting the leadership of a layperson in Parish activities. While 23.4% accepted lay leadership only in the shortage of priests in the Parish, 20.6% accepted lay leadership for non- spiritual activities.   The Holy Spirit in His own way calls forth lay leaders to be of service in the Church. This can be seen in the history of the Church when persons, associations and new communities were launched as indispensable co-workers of the Bishop and Priests.

        One view expressed in the Archdiocesan Survey, was that the laity were prepared to accept lay leadership in the Church if the person was trained or was an expert in his/her field.

        At this moment in time, the Holy Spirit inspires us to grow to be mature and open to accept trained lay leadership in the Church for the present and the future.

        It would be good to reflect on my attitude towards the trained lay faithful in my parish setting. 
        If in my parish there’s a permanent deacon and he has been appointed to do the baptism of my child, would I be prepared to accept him or would I try to wriggle out and try to get a priest to do it? 
        Am I accepting and open to receiving Holy Communion from a lay Eucharistic Minister or do I cross over to a line where a priest is distributing Holy Communion? 
        Would I receive faith formation with the same understanding and acceptance from a trained lay leader as from a priest?  
        For the success of this new arrangement it needs the understanding, openness, acceptance and preparation from the part of the community. The Code of Canon Law defines a parish as a ‘certain community of Christ’s faithful stably established’, i.e., a family united in faith in the Lord which is lived out in understanding, mutual acceptance and caring. 

2.    A Time for the Laity To Participate in the World
      One level of the ministerial life could be called common ministry, the role of laity in the secular field, which is to be exercised “in conformity to the specific lay vocation”. (John Paul II, Christifideles Laici, n. 23).

        The Second Vatican Council specifies secularity as the characteristic “propria et peculiaris” of the vocation and mission of the laity in the Church and in the world. (LG, nos. 31, 33 & 36). Therefore, the primary ministry of the lay person is “to permeate and perfect the temporal order of things with the spirit of the Gospel” and thus “to give witness to Christ”. (Can. 225, § 2).  

        What one would look for in the months after the Consultation is to have a greater emphasis of professionals/ experts/ specialists to serve on Church groups, to offer their expertise thereby enriching the very fabric of parish life. 

        A better understanding of the various Church documents and understanding of the ‘signs of the times’ will certainly help to bring about this paradigm shift, not just in our mere lip service, but this must reflected in our thinking, drawing up of plans and implementation of programmes for the Parish and Archdiocese at large.
A proposal to have Collaborative Governance on a few issues
      Once enlightened to see the need for a paradigm shift, this paper proposes a collaboration of the laity first among themselves and then to have collaboration with the clergy and the religious on a few issues:

1.    A Collaboration of Caring and Sharing
      Over the years since the Synod 2001 there has been a higher level of consciousness of care and concern for my neighbour. However much needs to be done. In a parish set up, one observes and this has been the findings of the survey too that few are involved in many activities, cells and associations. Every parish has a mine of talents; every parish is truly self sufficient to take care of all its needs.   A fostering and a better understanding of the role of the laity will help to achieve this.  Thereby building and making every Small Christian Community, Parish and the Archdiocese a truly participatory-servant Church. 

2.    A Collaboration for the Development of Responsible Youth
      “It is in the name of God and of his son Jesus, that we exhort you to heed the appeal of your brothers, to place your youthful energies at their service. The Church is anxious that this society that you (Youth) are going to build up should respect the dignity, the liberty and the rights of individuals. These individuals are you (Youth). The church is particular anxious that the society should allow free expansion to her treasure ever ancient and ever new, namely, faith, and that your souls may be able to bask freely in its helpful light. The Church looks to you (Youth) with confidence and with love. Rich with a long past ever living in her, and marching on toward human perfection in time and the ultimate destinies of history and of life, the church is the real youth of the world.” (Message of the II Vatican Council to the Youth).

        Our Archdiocese has a rich abundance of youth associations with particular charisms, aims and programmes. On a regular basis the Archdiocesan Youth Centre has joint meetings and programmes to creatively foster and to better understand our youth. Could such gatherings help the youth to   have a broader outlook to life, to develop themselves to their mission in the broader context of the community, city, nation and the world at large? Can responsible youth be developed who automatically are absorbed not merely as Church leaders, but as leaders in Civic and Political groups and in Citizen Awareness groups?

3.    A Collaboration in the field of Education
      Education is basic to the development of every human being and begins right from the birth of a child. Education develops and enhances the social status of a person and enables a person grow to maturity.

        A common and a well known problem faced by the Bishops and those in charge of education in our Archdiocese is who should be appointed as a new school/ college principal once the former principal retires. How open and accepting would the lay teachers be in accepting a lay principal? Lest we continue to escape under the most often heard excuse, “A priest is better, for we know he will be transferred after 6 years. Who wants that headache till she retires?”. Now is the crucial time as we reflect on our relationships with the other laity. Are we willing to put into practice what we know? We know for sure we need to accept, understand and be open to lay leadership in the field of education. 

4.    A Collaboration and Involvement of the Laity in Temporal Affairs
      The Church has grown hoarse telling the lay faithful that they are the ‘salt of the earth and the light of the world’. While acknowledging their expertise, and permitting the experts to help/ serve on various Church bodies, the Church also invites the lay faithful to be engaged in Civil Services, IFS, IPS, etc. There is a very minuscule group of our catholic lay faithful serving and working in the government, civic and public sectors. 

        If we knew what politics really means, we cannot but be challenged to participate in politics.  Politics in its real sense is a larger process by which decisions are made about our life, needs and aspirations and the ways and means of realizing those needs and aspirations.

        The time is ripe for us to permeate the mainstream of life, to live out our Christian calling in a challenging milieu, one that propagates values contrary to the Gospel and in a milieu that subjectively rationalizes the world around. The hierarchy too would do well if such initiatives were supported by them.


The world is a vast vineyard. The owner of the vineyard is the Lord and He invites every man, woman, and child to come into the vineyard and work it so as to make it produce the fruits of many good works. The special role of the laity, stemming from the special lay character that is theirs, and nourished by their own sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, and Marriage) is to make this world all that God meant it to be. The Kingdom of God begins here, but only if we all want it, choose in behalf of it, work towards it, promote what advances it, and resist whatever destroys injures or limits it. The Catholic laity has been referred to as a “sleeping giant waiting to be awakened.” Will they measure up to the needs of the age by drawing upon the special strengths of the Church, in what has been called “the age of the laity”? The choice is yours, and mine.

Questions for Discussion:

1.   Mention at least 3 most important ideas in the paper you agree with, giving reasons for the same

2.   Any suggestions relating to the implementation and the way forward regarding the above?

3.   Please mention any ideas in the paper you disagree with, giving reasons for the same

4.              Please mention any important aspects that you think have not been covered in the paper.


  1. a) The collaboration between the laity themselves will get a boost when the clergy acknowledges and affirms the talents of the lay person.
    b) The passive laity needs to be continuously apprised through homilies and other medium by the clergy of the importance of being active in church and social life. How much attention does a lay person have compared to a priest if both are called to be priest, prophet & king?
    c) Youth need to be groomed to enter the field of social work and politics now. They need to be counseled on how important it is to participate in choosing the right leaders and to be good leaders in today's scenario in India.
    d) Every priest must be given an annual target of people to be trained in different ministries in a year. Trained lay persons will make a difference.

  2. Relationship with Laity – last of the Papers: this seems to be significant.
    No call for a deeper understanding and internalization of what it means to be priest, prophet and king.
    School and adult catechesis need overhauling/deepening: those who ‘teach’, content, methodology, follow-up.
    More emphasis on NGO involvement that seeks to create grassroot awareness needed than entrance into a disgraced political class.
    To be a witness to Jesus, his disciple, one needs to develop qualities of compassion, sharing, sacrifice. This is difficult in a secular world which is convinced that to be more one must have more.
    Why is the list of persons in the Parish Group response to the S. Papers kept hush-hush? No comments of the Groups are available on the Parish Level or general public level. Surely if these comments are made available, “outsiders” can help and enlarge.
    The layperson needs a better understanding of Church as ‘People of God’, ‘Sign & Sacrament’, and ‘Mystical Body’. That is why adult on-going faith formation is of cardinal importance.
    If you want the youth, let our ministers go to them, sit with them, get involved with their concerns and style of thinking rather than ask them to come to “Church” and organize this and that.
    So much for now. Let’s see what the ‘insiders’ have to say.

  3. We are supposed to be ‘participating’, alive to our baptismal calling to be bearers of the Good News, but no decision-making powers in bodies like the Pastoral Council/Parish Council. Paradoxical, to say the least! If the Church is to gain credibility, here is the opportunity for reform. In this day and age, you cannot have the lay-person as second class in the Church

  4. 1) There is tremendous potential in the Laity, if their services, talents and charisms are used to the fullest, the church can transform the world.

    2) We need to have a Corporate like structure with definite reporting system, accountability and ofcourse a decent remuneration.

    3)There should be budgets set aside for all ministries so that they can function effectively and a process of approval for all expenses depending on the amount required.

  5. The clergy is disassociated with the spiritual and practial needs of the laity.

    During the holy Mass, sermons are like teacher-student affairs, and just as dry. Like students have no options but to sit thru their class, the laity have to bear the poorly prepared, long winded, righteous sermons that have little relevance to their daily life.

    Issues of daily life and spirituality are neglected. Sermons need to be life and spirit enhancing and relate to reality and practality.

    Problems of lack of communicatoin in married life and in a family, respecting onself and showing respect to others, problems of depressions, moral turpitude, and indulgence in life are real but totally ignored.

    Am sure over 90% of the people will not remember what the sermon was last Sunday, forget about applying the same in life.

    Sad indeed, that an important aspect of communication and empathy is not emphasised to the clergy. The sermons need to be brief, interesting and practical while extolling spirtitual principals and virtues.